Silver nanowire sensors hold promise for prosthetics, robotics


As wearable technology progresses, monitoring activity using these devices will require more accuracy as the user interacts with the environment. From fitness trackers to prosthetics, a wearable robotic device is extremely useful if its user is able to interact and gain feedback from its use. At North Carolina State University, researchers developed a silver-based nanowire sensor to monitor changes in pressure, finger touch, strain, and bioelectronic changes. As described in the study, the sensor involves a material placed between two conductors. The silver wires are the conductors, while the material in the middle is Ecoflex silicone and serves as the electric insulator. These sensors are moveable, stretchable, and respond to pressure changes in real time, within 40 milliseconds. Between these two layers an electric charge is stored, and as the sensor is stretched or deformed in any way, this change is interpreted as energy and measured.

The movements which these sensors are able to detect are walking, running, and jumping from squatting. For use in robotics devices such as exoskeletons and prosthetics, this information will become invaluable as the user will need this information in order to interact with the environment for safety and feedback purposes. The sensors can be used to ‘feel’ the environment, as well as to monitor movement and activity. For those with robotic prosthetic devices, these sensors can be used to provide important feedback to retrain the body and provide kinesthetic feedback.

One of the unique attributes of these sensors is their ability to deform and change shape with movement, as they can stretch up to 150% of their original shape.